What was originally part of a since-abandoned plan for a Michael Jackson theme park could become the country’s fifth largest amphitheater.
Or Horry County Council could tell the developer to beat it.
“It’s really up to the folks in the community if they’re going to welcome it or if it’s just something they’re going to fight,” said Marvin Heyd, a real estate agent representing the developer who has proposed building a 21,000-seat amphitheater. “The county council could probably go either way. … The timing’s right for something like that.”
Council members on Tuesday will take their final vote on rezoning about 75 acres to accommodate the proposed $35-40 million entertainment venue, which has drawn opposition from neighbors who aren’t thrilled about what they view as an off-the-wall concept that would transform their rural area.
Despite objections that the project is bad for the community, proponents maintain they have spent years searching for the best site for the Myrtle Beach Grand Amphitheater and this is it.
Despite its name, the land being eyed for the project is not in Myrtle Beach. It sits off S.C. 905 just north of the S.C. 22 intersection. If the council rezones the property, the project’s representatives say the venue could be open by 2023. If the council votes down the rezoning, it would force the developer to continue searching for a workable location.
Heyd said the former Myrtle Beach Mall site across from the Myrtle Beach Convention Center is too small for such an attraction. And finding enough uplands close enough to a major thoroughfare has been difficult. He stressed that this project can’t be compared to the other area attractions that have failed in the past because it would be so much larger.
“This is different than any other venue,” Heyd said. “It’s going to be world class and it’s going to have the criteria that brings the big entertainers here.”
The project would be financed by Windcrofte Capital, a private equity firm with a U.S. headquarters in Atlanta, records show. The company also has an office in Oslo, Norway.
Windcrofte's leaders have been involved in more than $7 billion of transactions in real estate, energy and natural resources, and life settlements, according to the company’s website. Windcrofte’s transactions portfolio lists office towers in Atlanta and San Francisco and hotels in China and San Diego. The company also has holdings in casinos and gaming, according to the Windcrofte website.
Nils Trosterud, the managing director of Windcrofte, is also the chief financial officer of PDN Enterprises, the South Carolina company developing the amphitheater project, according to a letter submitted to the county last week. Trosterud’s bio on the Windcroft website describes him as working in real estate “as an advisor and principal with many of Europe's largest property developers and owners marketing large residential and commercial real estate properties with [a] total value in excess of $500 million.”
The company’s website also states that he is a founding partner of a media and publishing company and has worked as a consultant for Coca-Cola, Ford and The Red Cross. A copy of Trosterud’s bio from the Windcrofte website was included in a packet of promotional materials delivered to county officials last week.
Trosterud, who lives in Norway, could not be reached for comment.
Heyd said the group behind the project also includes Patrick Palmer, an Horry County resident who has worked in the music industry for decades, and Palmer's wife, DeAnn Beech Palmer, who also has a long history booking artists.
Heyd said Patrick Palmer first became interested in the region because he was friends with Michael Jackson and had considered opening a Michael Jackson theme park here.
“Michael Jackson was a big star in his day, but I just don’t think that a theme park would work here,” Heyd said.
Patrick Palmer referred questions about the amphitheater project to his wife.
DeAnn Beech Palmer said she and her husband initially wanted to build an amphitheater as part of the Michael Jackson park.
That’s how they met Trosterud, she said, but the park idea never took off.
“It was actually too big,” she said.
After doing some additional research, the group found that the Grand Strand was several hours from other major concert venues, places that could draw Beyonce or Taylor Swift. So they chose to limit the project to just the amphitheater.
“We have a rapport with some agencies that book the bigger entertainment,” DeAnn Beech Palmer said. “There is actually a need for venues for the larger artists to play in. … There’s 20 million people coming through Myrtle Beach. There’s no place to come … a big venue like this, 21,000 seats. You can go to the Alabama Theatre. You can go to the House of Blues, but it’s not 21,000 seats.”
Supporters of the amphitheater have billed it as a transformational venue, one that would establish Myrtle Beach as an entertainment destination while generating $2 million annually in local tax revenues.
A nearly six-minute video (available above) that was submitted to county leaders last week touts the benefits of the project and the potential impact on the community.
The video states that the amphitheater is supported by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and would be heavily promoted in future Myrtle Beach marketing. A chamber spokesperson said in an email that the organization would issue a statement on the amphitheater after the council’s decision on Tuesday.
The video also states that a company called PP Productions would operate the amphitheater. The video describes PP Productions as having booked top artists for decades, ranging from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to Kenny Chesney and Beyonce. DeAnn Beech Palmer said she has worked for the company for 33 years.
Internet searches turn up few details about the PP Productions. DeAnn Beech Palmer said the company pre-dates the internet and lacks much of digital footprint.
Both Palmers are part of PDN Enterprises and PP Productions. DeAnn Beech Palmer said she plans to attend county council on Tuesday.
Heyd’s team also expects to respond to residents’ questions during the public hearing portion of the meeting.
The real estate agent acknowledged that it’s human nature to be concerned about the noise the facility would generate, and neighbors have worried that as bands jam their livestock will scream in fear.
Heyd has prepared a “sound report” for the council that describes how most of the amphitheater would be constructed below ground level on the site, with the speakers angled toward the audience. He maintains the design of the facility would help mitigate some of the neighbors' noise concerns. He acknowledged the concerts would still be heard several miles away, though he said that would be at a level equivalent to normal conversation.
The developer is also willing to make improvements to S.C. 905 to accommodate the project, including paying for widening the road and adding necessary traffic lights. The proximity to S.C. 22 is one of the main reasons for the interest in the tract, why the developer insists it’s got to be there.
“That’s going to be one of the most important things is the traffic and how the traffic is going to be moved from the venue,” Heyd said. “They won’t go forward with it unless they get it where it’s at a perfect balance between the community and the people going there.”
He added that there are other benefits from the project, too. The facility would employ 20 full-time workers and offer more than 400 part-time positions, mostly for operations on the 26 concert days each year.
“They’re looking to be a good steward of the community,” Heyd said. “Some people asked us to build parks and others to help build a new fire station and stuff like that. These things they’re willing to do.”
Those behind the park have not requested any publicly-funded economic development incentives, said Sandy Davis, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. (EDC).
In February, Heyd and another real estate agent met with neighbors for about two hours to discuss the project. Most of those who spoke blasted the idea. They said the traffic and noise from the venue would ruin the rural nature of the community.
“We all moved out here because we didn’t want to move into the city,” Aaron Asbury, who lives in the Polo Farms subdivision, said at that meeting. “We don’t want the city coming to us.”
While some residents were in a state of shock, for others the issue isn’t rural or suburban, black or white. It’s more nuanced. They have pointed out the failures of past venue projects. They remember the time when live music theaters dominated the Grand Strand entertainment scene, and they can rattle off the list of those that have shuttered. They often highlight the unsuccessful Swamp Fox Entertainment Complex in Marion County.
But Heyd pushes back on that narrative.
“Your big acts will not come to a small venue,” he said. “You look at what Marion Swamp Fox Entertainment tried to do — it wasn’t very big. You don’t get your top entertainers unless you have at least 16-21,000 seats.”
Horry County Councilman Danny Hardee, whose district includes the site, said he’s going to side with the majority of his constituents on this issue.
So far, he said, most of them have asked him to vote against the rezoning. However, Hardee said he wants to hear from the residents at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I can vote no, but there’s 11 other people up there that’s going to vote also,” he said. “I definitely want [the council] to be able to hear from the people whether they want it or whether they don’t want it.”
Hardee said he hopes the folks behind the project will be able to offer a fuller explanation of the amphitheater than they did at a town hall meeting at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in February.
“The group that came out to the church didn’t have a lot of answers for the people,” he said. “I just want them (residents) to have all the information. And if they still don’t want it, then we don’t want it. … I’m not sure it’s a fit for the rural area out here. Now I know the location probably would [be] as far as convenience for the amphitheater. I don’t know that it’s the right location for the people that live around here.”
One key difference about this rezoning is that this is the final vote on the issue. Typically, county council holds a public hearing on the second of the three votes required to rezone property. This public hearing is happening on the night of the third vote.
Hardee said that’s because there will be no COVID-19 restrictions on public input Tuesday. Until recently, council members had protocols that limited the ways residents could participate in hearings. In some cases, county officials accepted written statements or phone calls as opposed to in-person discussions. Seating was limited to encourage social distancing.
Hardee told the residents who live near the site that he wouldn’t hold a public hearing on this matter until they could fully participate in person.
Legally, county officials said there wasn’t enough time between when the council relaxed the COVID protocols and the night of the second vote to properly advertise the hearing then.
That’s why the final vote and hearing will be held on the same night.
“That’s what I promised them,” Hardee said, “before we approved it or killed it, that I would give them the opportunity [to speak].”
CORRECTION: DeAnn Beech Palmer said she planned to attend, not speak, at Tuesday's council meeting. An earlier version of this story was incorrect.